Five players that will benefit the most from the 2017 EuroBasket
This year’s rendition of the biggest European basketball competition ended on a high note, with Goran Dragić leading Slovenia to their first historical golden medal in a heated matchup against Serbia. Besides the finals, the entire tournament featured a number of electrifying games, despite being deprived of the quality of 31 NBA players who withdrew for various reasons. Among those that humbly decided to represent their country’s colors, several European NBA players really stood out and gave us a glimpse of what to expect in the upcoming NBA season.
1. Lauri Markkanen (Finland, Chicago Bulls)
The 7-footer from Arizona was a part of the haul that the Bulls’ received for trading Jimmy Butler, signifying their decision to start their own rebuilding process. Bulls fans’ skepticism of the decision to pick Markkanen with the newly acquired seventh pick was eerily similar to the reaction Knicks’ fans had after drafting Porzingis, but he has started disproving the doubters even before the season started. Due to Finland not being projected to cause any havoc at the tournament, Markkanen wasn’t actually in the spotlight beforehand, but as games progressed, more and more eyes started turning towards the 20-year-old’s interesting skillset.
He finished the Eurobasket as by far the most efficient player on the Finnish roster, averaging 19.5 points and 5.7 rebounds on amazing 53/47/90 shooting. In his freshman season he scored most of his points from spot-up positions, but over the six games we’ve seen him play he put his well-rounded offensive game on full display. A vast array of post moves, great composure in transition, confident shooting (especially in the clutch) and willingness to put the ball on the floor and attack the defense face-up eventually put Finland in position to cause a couple of upsets.
Naturally, some lazy comparisons with a certain blonde-haired European with a smooth stroke quickly popped up, but an easy transition to the NBA is never a given and Lauri is yet to play his first minutes in Chicago. However, judging by this EuroBasket, Markkanen definitely has a modern set of tools at his disposal, and will surely be a vital part of the Bulls’ refreshed roster alongside Zach Lavine and Kris Dunn.
2. Dennis Schroder (Germany, Atlanta Hawks)
In contrast to Markkanen, Schroder’s ability to show up on the big scene wasn’t much of an unknown heading into the EuroBasket. Everybody knew what the Hawks’ point guard will be bringing to the court, and yet hardly any team came up a formula to stop it. Relentless drives, craftiness around the rim and respectable pull-up and off-the-screen shooting drove opposing coaches crazy, although his reckless plays occasionally hurt his team. With 23.7 points per game Schroder ended up just a tad behind the tournament leading scorer Alexey Shved, and his 5.6 assists were good for seventh place.
The German team holds much resemblance to what awaits Schroder back at Atlanta; a lacklustre supporting cast that will rely heavily on moments of his inspiration. Judging by the previous season and this EuroBasket, Schroder is eager to prove that he has what it takes to be the #1 option after three seasons spent in Jeff Teague’s shadow. Although no one will be taken aback if he’s assigned the role of the tank commander as the season goes on, rest assured that the Hawks will snatch some wins based on Schroder’s willpower and skill alone.
3. Cedi Osman (Turkey, Cleveland Cavaliers)
The Cavs’ new international addition was somewhat overshadowed by the whole Kyrie Irving saga, and understandably so since he fell even further on the depth chart with the acquisition of Jae Crowder and Jeff Green. However, judging by his performance at the EuroBasket, the 22-year-old SF/SG will be more than ready to contribute once coach Ty Lue calls out his name. He was a pivotal part of the depleted Turkish roster, leading them in points (16.0), rebounds (5.0) and assists (3.8). His shooting splits weren’t as stellar (38/35/82), but that’s mostly because he occasionally had to force the issue and take tough shots due to lack of any complementary offensive firepower.
Osman’s main trait is that he’s equally impressive on both ends of the floor, and that his impact is felt every moment he spends on the court. The EuroBasket was a great opportunity for him to see where he stands when he’s handed the reins of a team, and that experience will definitely help him once he takes on a more reserved role with the Cavs. There is no doubt that even the most stacked of rosters can make good use of a “Swiss army knife” player who’s also a respectable spot-up shooter, especially over the course of the regular season.
4. Bogdan Bogdanović (Serbia, Sacramento Kings)
The Serbian sharpshooter will enter the season under the burden of being the highest paid rookie in NBA history, and if his performance at the EuroBasket is any indication, the Kings’ front office did a great job at gauging how he will be able to handle that pressure. After the Clippers pulled Miloš Teodosić due to injury concern, Bogdanović was instantly promoted to the status of the team leader and number one scoring option. He eventually carried his team all the way to the finals, posting an excellent statline of 20.4 points, 5 assists and 3.6 rebounds in the process.
Bogdanović’s versatile offensive repertoire should definitely help Kings’ scoring woes right off the bat, as they finished in the bottom third in both points per game and offensive efficiency last year. Besides his well-known ability to score from anywhere on the court in a plethora of different ways, he demonstrated that he can be a great facilitator as well when he puts his mind to it. The dynamic Kings’ backcourt now featuring a young and energetic trio of Buddy Hield, De’Aaron Fox and Bogdanović is bound to cause headaches for the opposing defenses, and if Bogdan (which translates to God’s Gift) gets a decent amount of playing time after a self-confidence boost at the EuroBasket, he could easily earn himself the label of a dark horse ROY candidate.
5. Kristaps Porzingis (Latvia, New York Knicks)
Porzingis gladly accepted the invitation to play at the EuroBasket, considering it as a great opportunity to further improve himself, unlike some other NBA players who scoffed at the idea of wasting their precious time during the summer. The Carmelo trade speculations dragged throughout the entire offseason, so Kristaps couldn’t really be sure whether he’d return to New York as the new Knicks’ alpha dog once the tournament is over.
Judging by his performance, he wasn’t fazed at all by the stories from the other side of the Atlantic, proving once again why he quickly became an untradeable piece for the Knicks. Besides the Gasol brothers, he was the most dominant big man at the tournament, averaging an amazing 23.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2 blocks on 53/38/90 shooting splits.
The tactical approach of the Latvian team was obviously modelled after the recent trends in the NBA. Incredible amount of outside shooting, constant pushing in the transition and lowered expectations on the defensive end have proven to be a winning formula for Latvians, especially for their X-factor in Kristaps Porzingis. The complete freedom he was given definitely didn’t smother him, but rather gave him the opportunity to demonstrate some aspects of his game that aren’t as emphasized in the NBA. It was incredible to watch a 7’3” guy not shying away from putting the ball on the floor and attacking the defense face-up. Combined with his amazing offensive awareness, that enabled him to consistently get to the line (6.9 free throw attempts per game), which is a skill he often gets criticized about in the NBA.
In the end, Porzingis put Latvia back on the basketball map of Europe, while proving he has no issues with being the bonafide star of a team. That experience will surely aid him in his attempt to put the Knicks back in the playoff bracket; whether he will have to do it on his own or with the help of another star, we are yet to see.